I want to introduce you to Daffy. A rather fabulous painted welsh dresser who might well have saved my mental health as much as (I hope) my wee business.
It’s been a while since I wrote about upcycling furniture. Over a year in fact. So much has happened in that time. Most of which you will already know about – unless you have been hiding in a bunker since March. Covid-19 has impacted our lives more than possibly most of us would ever have thought possible.
But I don’t want to dwell on that. I consider myself lucky to have come out of a lean four months with my sanity intact. And still optimistic of some small pickings for a rural Scottish business trying to just ‘figure it all out’.
And this week was a turning point.
Let’s bring ‘Daffy’ back in. Because I want to tell you the story, through this wonderful chap.
‘Daffy’ came to me around about a year ago now. The boy down the road popped in for a coffee – as he does from time to time. Then as he drains his cup he reaches for his phone and asks if I might be interested in the top of a dresser.
I know what you are thinking. What on earth can I do with a top and no bottom? Well, it just so happens I had a bottom. A totally different style, but I was prepared to make it work. The deal was struck and I set about making some space in the stockroom.
Then blow me down if a day or two later I don’t get a message from the boy’s brother to say ‘I have the bottom too if it’s of any use.’
Don’t ask. But clearly the boys realised, the two really belonged as one. Result! I have always wanted to create a painted welsh dresser.
By the way. ‘Boys?’ Actually men. In Scotland boys are men, loons are boys and a manny is an old(er) man. It can be confusing to an English settler like me. Many are the times I thought someone was insulting the youngsters by calling them loons.
But I digress – as usual.
Before the brush
Finally the welsh dresser arrived in all his splendour….actually he wasn’t splendid at all. He was rather well used shall we say. Not to hurt anyone’s feelings, but he had seen a bit of life.
Let me describe him.
He was made almost entirely of solid pine wood – encouraging but it also made him incredibly heavy. In parts, the wood was still rough sawn. All the doors were also hung facing the one way. ‘For right-handers’ we joked. The biggest ouch though was internal. It had been painted with some kind of gloss paint. That might suggest previous heavy use in a kitchen for pots and pans. It also might suggest a more utility use – in a garage or workshop.
Either way, he was a big lump of orange pine that I hadn’t the heart to either turn away or to embrace. It took a couple of strong boys to lift him into my stockroom – and that is where he stayed. Stuffed in a corner.
For 18 whole months!
The one thing about this whole lockdown business (I promise I won’t mention it again) is having time to think. Almost all of 2019 was spent on client commissions. And painting a lot of things in cream! I developed a shoulder impingement from the repetitive movements and an irrational aversion to neutral colours. As 2020 dawned I wasn’t feeling the love for furniture much. I finished off a couple of projects in Jan and Feb and decided to set some time aside to rest and regroup, as they say.
Little did I know, hey? [smiling ruefully]
After a fantastic spring making the most of the weather and giving our garden more attention than it has ever had, I decided the time had come.
Daffy was coming out!
On a boiling hot day, stripped to my vest and shorts, with my lockdown hair in a headband….
Let’s just stop there for a moment and picture that…
Moving swiftly on, Daffy was stripped and dismantled. Doors off, drawers out, he was scrubbed to within an inch of his life with my trusty sugar soap. Rinsed and dried.
Stage two – another scrubbing, this time with a vinegar solution and left to dry in the blazing sun. Vinegar helps with odours but combined with the sun it also helps counter any potential mould spots.
Once completely dry he was sanded and cleaned again ready to head indoors to my studio.
Come to Mama!
Time for some new clothes
‘We love paint preparation’ said nobody ever.
You will often hear it said that modern chalk and mineral paints need hardly any preparation and are self-priming. And that might well be true. Plus it’s a great selling point if you sell paint, right?
The level of preparation is subjective.
I have been called in to rectify projects (by others I might add) which were quite probably undertaken under ‘hardly any prep’ perception. It’s not a pretty sight. And frankly, it’s way harder than doing it right the first time around. In fact, it might well have been behind my dodgy shoulder and losing the love a little last year. I could weep when I see the state of some of it.
Like house building. Get the foundations right and you are sure to have something which stands the test of time.
So, while my trusty primer was drying I set about pulling various tins off the shelf to begin a little alchemy. One part of the colour spectrum which has always been well received is what I call the duck egg shades. In particular those in the blue range. And the beauty of chalk minerals is it’s just about pigments really.
Fast forward three days and Daffy was finished.
Goodbye orange pine. Hello painted welsh dresser.
I wasn’t expecting that
The next hardest part comes when you finish a piece. The doubts creep in.
Will anyone else like it? Will they buy it? Is it too different? Is the colour current, versatile, adaptable?
All these things go through my head. Every single time.
Each one is completely bespoke. Yes – I could do stock colours and advertise ‘another of these is available’. Produce copy cat versions over and over. But that isn’t what I love about it. My passion comes from knowing I have produced something pretty unique. By creating homegrown colour blends it almost guarantees there won’t be an identical piece. Close maybe, but not exactly the same. And that’s what my customers love too.
Add to that the reality of returning to some normality. Business only began to reopen in Scotland this month. Entry into homes was still an unanswered question. I got a local company to help us complete our risk assessments and produce Covid secure method statements. Then came the long-awaited the green light from Scottish Government to get our business operating again.
We were ready – but what about our customers? How confident would they be in receiving tradesmen and women again? And would they have the pennies to spend yet?
I tentatively put it out to sale. First to my loyal family of followers. And then to the wider marketplace. It was a tense moment. The first real test of whether my business had a chance to survive this. I held my breath.
Four hours later it was sold! In a little over a week, he was delivered, under strict social distancing and safety guidelines, to one very very happy new owner. She had been waiting a long time to find a painted welsh dresser for the farmhouse.
Things are looking up
And because of Daffy, my lovely painted Welsh dresser, I am re-energised again too. Optimistic about the future.
And with a stockroom of furniture awaiting my attention, it can only mean one thing.
Pass me my paintbrush…
So why did I name him Daffy? Well here’s the thing. It all hinged on the colour you see. Duck egg blue. Duck? A famous duck? And I sure as hell wasn’t naming him Donald!
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The Artisan Bothy
Breathing new life into your tired furniture throughout Moray, Grampian, Highlands and Scotland